WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will leave tomorrow night for a whirlwind trip to Australia and Malaysia, where he will reinforce the U.S. commitment to the region with a longstanding U.S. ally and an increasingly close partner, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters today.

Gates will join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and their Australian hosts, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Defense Minister John Faulkner, in Melbourne for the 25th anniversary Australian-U.S. ministerial meetings, Morrell announced.

The annual AUSMIN meetings, as they’re known, alternate between the United States and Australia. Gates attended his last Australian session in Canberra in 2008.

This year’s talks with cover a broad range of foreign policy, defense and strategic issues, including ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, Morrell

He noted that Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to the International Security Assistance Force, with more than 1,500 troops serving there, predominantly in Uruzgan province in Regional Command South.

The discussions also will focus on the U.S.-Australia partnership’s role in Asia’s overall security environment, Morrell said. The participants also will address their efforts to help the region confront its humanitarian, developmental and environmental challenges and to help partner nations build capacity in issues ranging from disaster relief to maritime security.

“This year's gathering is an occasion to reflect on the strength and resiliency of the U.S.-Australian alliance, a bond between two democracies of shared culture, interests and values, while also considering the path forward together,” Morrell said.

The meetings, originally scheduled for January, were postponed following the Haiti earthquake so Gates and Clinton could remain in Washington to help in managing U.S. assistance efforts, Morrell noted.

From Australia, Gates will travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to meet with Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Razak and Defense Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi.

Following on Clinton’s sessions there this week, Morrell said, Gates’ visit is “another signal of our deepening relationship with Malaysia.”

Gates and his Malaysian hosts will focus on strengthening their bilateral military ties and building on the increasing number of joint exercises conducted over the past six years, he said. They also are expected to discuss Malaysia’s contributions to global humanitarian and peacekeeping missions and to explore additional areas for future cooperation.